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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

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Court convicts liberal paper's publisher

By Ali Raiss-Tousi

TEHRAN, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The publisher of Neshat, a pro-reform Iranian newspaper which outraged conservatives with an article opposing capital punishment, was convicted on Monday of insulting Islamic values.

Latif Safari, whose outspoken liberal daily was already under suspension, was found guilty of insulting police officials and members of parliament and ``inciting people and students to revolt and strike.''

The Press Court jury was unanimous and the court said there were no mitigating circumstances but did not announce a sentence, according to a judiciary statement reported by the official news agency IRNA.

The sentence could include a final ban against Neshat, suspended early this month, along with a jail term and a fine against its publisher.

The court found Latif not guilty on three unspecified charges but said remaining charges against the newspaper would be heard later by a new jury, which has the power to fine or jail the publisher and editors.

A total of 74 charges were brought against Neshat which drew a firestorm of criticism from conservatives by publishing an article against capital punishment. Critics accused the popular newspaper of opposing the Islamic principle of retribution, summed up in the injunction ``an eye for an eye.''

The court could also ban members of the maverick editorial team, who have already had two other dailies closed down, from further journalistic activity.

The closure of the outspoken Neshat was a blow by the conservative-led judiciary against liberal newspapers which had thrived in a climate of greater freedom under moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Using liberal licensing rules under Khatami, the editorial team has already launched a new daily, although it said the newspaper's launch had been planned before Neshat's troubles.

The clerical establishment also said publication by Neshat of an open letter from a veteran opposition politician asking supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to stay out of factional politics had insulted Iran's Islamic system.

Legal analysts had said Neshat's best defence would be to try to draw out the proceedings until September 23, when the new and more liberal press jury was expected to be sworn in.

But Judge Saeed Mortazavi -- who doubles as prosecutor under the Iranian system -- appeared intent on moving the chaotic hearing forward as quickly as possible, holding sessions through the noon prayers and keeping the court in session until late in the day.


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